Its two hours before the 2009 World Championships street finals at Relentless NASS and a crowd is gathering in front of the streetboard booth in the trade hall. At first I think the flyers and RedPens I’ve been handing out to the jail bait all day must be to blame, but as I get closer I make out some familiar faces; Christian Kamm and Max Anderson. Pushing to the front I see what everyone’s here for and realise that this isn’t a crowd; it’s a queue. Stood in the centre is Yuichi Miyazaki, massaging out the rust from Gotthard Pilsner’s neck. Ever since then Yuichi has been as famous for his muscle treatments as he is for being one of the friendliest faces on the streetboard scene.
Yuichi claims to be 33 years old, but you’d never guess it. When I caught up with him early this year he’d just been out in the Pacific, satisfying his other passion in life; surfing. He’s been involved in the Japanese surf scene since he was in high school, and it was that scene that first introduced him to streetboarding.
“When I was eighteen, one of my surfing friends brought a snakeboard back with him from a trip to Hawaii. The surf shop guys skated with the board for training; that’s how I first met the snakeboard.”
This surfing influence permeates the samurai’s style; if you’ve ever had the chance to watch Yuichi skate on flat ground with no bindings you’ll know exactly what I mean. Styled out slow turns, carving across the surface and changing direction in the blink of an eye; surfing that imaginary wave. The simple pleasures of motion and movement are often forgotten in our sport, particularly now as we progress to ever sicker tricks. Sometimes I think it’s a shame that we’ve lost that side of streetboarding, but Yuichi sees it differently.
“Today streetboarding is an extreme sport, like skateboarding or snowboarding. But there is possibility, it’s cool that the riders can choose their own style to ride, whether it’s training for surfing, cruising or hitting skateparks. I’m satisfied with carving, I don’t know what other streetboarders think about that, but that choice is why I love streetboarding.”
Currently Yuichi runs a distribution company, working hard to get boards into stores. The result has been the building of a strong streetboard scene in Japan and a following which is growing steadily.
“There aren’t as many people who practice extreme sports in Japan as there are in other countries, so it can be difficult to get people interested. But now more and more snowboarders are trying it, they have good balance and imagination. It’s a big sport in Japan. Quite a few of the streetboarders started off as snowboarders; they’re connecting the two sports.”
This connection seems to be producing some promising young Japanese riders. Worlds 2011 saw the introduction of Shuto Udagawa to the international streetboard scene, a fearless 16 year old who mixed it up with the best of the best.
“For sure in a few years time Shuto is going to kick all the top riders. He’s only been skating for 2 years, and he has a great balance. I thought he needed to see the better riders; when we skate in Japan we do a few airs and some grinds, but that’s not enough for Shuto. We taught him carving and some tricks in the ramps, and he’s done great. But he needs to be motivated and skate with the best riders in the world. That’s why I asked Sergi (Nicolas) if he could stay at his place. That’s exactly what he needs to have.”
As well as hooking up the young guns with sick streetboard trips, Yuichi has been working hard behind the scenes of the Japanese streetboarding community. Recently the country held its first national championships, an event he organised completely.
“It was hard dude! I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but there were so many different things to do! I competed in surfing contests since high school and I was close to that scene, so I had an imagination of what to do. I really wanted to organise everything, every detail. I need to do that. I spent too much money on it, but it was worth it. It was my dream to organise an event and I achieved it, it was awesome.”
Yuichi first turned up on the international scene in 2006, making the long journey over from his hometown to Peterborough, England, for that year’s World Championships. The mammoth journey itself shows how dedicated to the sport he is, however the story of how he ended up in a grimy UK city portrays this even more. Earlier in the year Yuichi made a trip over to San Diego, California.
“I wanted to find the home of snakeboard USA; my board was getting old and I wanted to see all the awesome snakeboarders I’d seen on the internet. I followed the address that was on the company’s website, but there was no-one there. There was no snakeboard USA and no riders in San Diego anymore. It felt like a wasted journey, I was left asking myself ‘what am I doing here?’ I hit the bar to try to figure out what to do next, but after a few drinks I decided not to give up. I found a guy working in a surf shop who knew Sandra, the last president of Snakeboard USA. He told me that she’d moved away some years ago, and that she was now living in Mexico.”
With just two days left before his flight back to Japan, Yuichi knew he was running out of time to find the home of snakeboarding. It must have been a hard decision to abandon the journey at that stage, but it was one that he had to make. Six months later however, after quitting his job, Yuichi returned to the San Diego surf shop. With no ties at home anymore, he had as much time as he liked to complete his trip. Armed with a hand drawn map of how to get to Sandra’s home, he got on a bus and crossed the border into Mexico.
“It took about ten hours on the bus to get to the area I wanted to go. It was midnight; there were no houses, no hotels, but plenty of stars. The bus driver told me to get back on and took me to the nearest town where I checked into a dusty motel. I had a phone number for Sandra that I kept trying over the next few days; I don’t know how long I was there for before I finally got through. We arranged to meet back at the first bus stop the next day. When I got there I was shocked! It was a desert; dust and cactuses stretched out for miles and miles. I waited there for three hours. Finally a car with a Snakeboard USA sticker on the body drew up, and I was like: ‘YES!’.”
Yuichi stayed with Sandra and her husband at their place on the desert coastline for a week, learning the history of snakeboard USA and surfing the waves which broke right in front of the house.
“It was a crazy place; no water, no electricity. Their phone was solar powered, which is why I couldn’t get through for so long. I told Sandra how much I wanted to introduce snakeboards to Japan, but she told me that she doesn’t make them anymore. I was sad, but I was satisfied just to hear the history of our sport and surf with a crazy couple in the middle of the Mexican desert. Before I left, she gave me the information about Josh Mick, Brinton Gunderson and Dimension Streetboards. I went to San Jose to see Josh and we talked about streetboarding and the worlds coming up in England. I told him what I wanted to do with streetboards at home, and he was really supportive. When I got back to Japan I stayed one night at the airport then flew straight into the UK for the Championships. When I arrived the first three guys I met were Jon White, Simon Johns and Alex Wheeler. I really remember that, they were skating so good, but my main memory is Simon’s eyes and how strong they are!”
It seems the metalcopter salesmen has that impression on the Japanese in general, being told by Shuto at this years Worlds that he looks like he should be part of the Mafia. But that ice cold glare quickly melted and Yuichi was welcomed into the family.
“I think that’s one of the best things about streetboarding. It’s such a close family. We are a family. It’s super.”
This sense of togetherness is an important aspect of streetboarding, and one that, I agree, is one of the best things about the sport. Yuichi believes that the annual get together for the World Championships is the perfect platform to express this.
“I like the style of having worlds like this year (2011) in Austria. I went to Worlds at NASS and it was great to show people what streetboarding was about, but it didn’t feel like a real worlds. Not everyone was together every day. I prefer it when we’re all in the same hotel and going to the same parties. It’s so much fun! We need to be together at least once a year.”
As the clock on my laptop flicks past 5pm, I know his is pushing 2am. Time for some thankyous:
“Thank you to all the streetboarders in the world. Streetboarding has changed my life and I’m happy about it. I’m super glad to have met all you guys!”
As I click the button to hang up, I’m already looking forward to the next time I get to grab a beer and hang out with streetboarding’s own samurai – a warrior for the cause.
- Interview by Neil Shillabeer